by Carolyn Hale Russ
Carolyn Hale Russ uses the diary and personal accounts of her father, Richard L. Hale, to discuss California exploration by settlers from 1849 to 1854. Russ highlights the land and ship excursions her father undertook in order to find adventure and gold. The Log of a Forty-Niner offers rich accounts and interesting illustrations to immerse a reader in the experiences of a fortune-seeker encountering the natural beauty of the West Coast.
The California Gold Rush really was a bonanza. Between 1849 and 1855 the miners gathered more than $400 million dollars of gold; once adjusted, it is a sum today reaching into the trillions. It was a social phenomenon marked by the carnivalesque. In his work Roughing It (1872) Mark Twain’s protagonist remarks as his brother heads West, “Pretty soon he would be hundreds and hundreds of miles away on the great plains and deserts, and among the mountains of the Far West, and would see buffaloes and Indians, and prairie dogs, an antelopes, and have all kinds of adventures, and may be get hanged or scalped, and have ever such a fine time, and write home and tell us all about it, and be a hero…And by and by he would become very rich, and return home by sea, and be able to talk as calmly about San Francisco and ocean, and ‘the isthmus’ as if it was nothing of any consequence to have seen those marvels face to face.”
Go they did to the Land of Golden Dreams, in the largest internal migration in American history, and the adventures and tragedies have created a large and memorable literature.